Right at Your Door (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The apocalyptic scenario is one that nearly everyone born after 1945 has had to consider at one time or another. From the '50s through the '80s, it was the potential of a nuclear holocaust. Now, it's terrorism. Living with the ongoing possibility has a way of desensitizing a person so that when something happens, as it did on September 11, 2001, it's a shock to the system. Like any subject matter spawned in the nightmares of reality, this material offers fertile ground for filmmakers. Some come to exploit while others come to explore. Right at Your Door, the directorial debut of Chris Gorak, falls into the latter category. Its strength is that it feels real. It follows in the footsteps of two '80s movies about nuclear devastation: the overhyped The Day After and the underrated Testament.

It's a day like any other in Los Angeles. Lexi (Mary McCormack) and Brad (Rory Cochrane) are starting the morning as usual: he puts on the coffee while she takes a shower. She shrugs off his halfhearted sexual advances, afraid that she'll be late for work. He urges her to take back roads because the freeway is unusually jammed. A little later, Brad is going about his daily activities when he hears the news on the radio: terrorists have attacked Los Angeles with three dirty bombs, destroying large portions of the downtown area and filling the air with toxic clouds of smoke raining deadly ash. A panicked Brad can't get Lexi on her cell phone and a frantic search by car leads to road blocks in every direction. He returns home and, with the help of his neighbor's handyman (Tony Perez), uses plastic and duct tape to seal up the house. Thus begins ordeal: waiting for help, waiting for information, and - more than anything - waiting for Lexi.

Gorak does an excellent job of setting the scene and showing the aftermath of the attacks. The special effects are low key but the distant shots of a smoke-shrouded Los Angeles skyline are entirely convincing. The music score, by tomandandy (perhaps best known for their work in Killing Zoe), adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings, as does the occasional employment of first-person camera work. The first half of Right at Your Door is harrowing. Things slow down later in the movie as the film becomes more about paranoia and helplessness.

The familiarity of everything is the film's greatest asset. The characters could be us or people we know. Rory Cochrane makes Brad into a living, breathing individual, going through the phases in a emergency we all must endure, culminating in a moment of crisis when he may have to face sealing his wife out of the house because she could be carrying a terminal disease. Cochrane and McCormack share some poignant scenes, especially later in the story, when they are able to see and hear one another are deprived of the sense of touch.

The movie loses momentum during its final third, which is understandable considering the limitations of the setting and the restrictions inherent in a movie that primarily features two characters. The ending is arguably a little too sensationalistic, but it certainly drives home a point about the ineffectiveness of governmental action during a crisis. (The movie was made when echoes of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were still in the air.) Then again, this is the kind of story for which almost any conclusion could be faulted in one way or another.

It has taken the Right at Your Door 19 months since its January 2006 Sundance premiere to reach U.S. screens, and it's not being released on an abundance of them. Lionsgate paid $3 million for the worldwide rights to the movie, but did little to nurture it during its tenure with them (they farmed it out to Roadside Attractions for its U.S. release). While this is admittedly not lighthearted mainstream fare, the subject matter is interesting and is handled in a manner that offers a compelling and sometimes unsettling 95 minutes.

Right at Your Door (United States, 2006)

Director: Chris Gorak
Cast: Mary McCormack, Rory Cochrane, Tony Perez
Screenplay: Chris Gorak
Cinematography: Tom Richmond
Music: tomandandy
U.S. Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2007-08-24
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1